By Irene Basson & Sherole Webster
On the 27th of April South Africans celebrate Freedom Day to commemorate the first non-racial democratic elections of 1994. Freedom Day marks the liberation of our country and its people from a long period of colonialism and apartheid.
The road to democracy was a long and difficult one. The exclusion of the majority of South Africans from political power was at the centre of the liberation struggle and resistance to white minority rule. Apartheid ‘officially’ began in South Africa in 1948, but colonialism and oppression of the African majority had plagued South Africa since 1652.
After decades of resistance, a stalemate between the Liberation Movement and the Apartheid government was reached in 1988. Several banned political organisations were unbanned on 2 February 1990, and a non-racial constitution was agreed upon and adopted in 1993. On 27 April 1994, the nation finally cast its vote in the first democratic election.
How many of us can say that we’re registered voters? That we’ve registered to vote in the upcoming municipal elections? Change can only be achieved through the efforts of a collective society who strive for a common goal. Exercising our right to vote in all elections regardless of race, gender or creed is a responsibility we cannot take lightly as numerous lives were laid to rest in the fight for equality. Do we truly exercise the freedoms we’ve been afforded? We often commemorate the many brave men and women who laid down their lives to improve the future of South Africa; yet we do not maximise the opportunities that they died to ensure were provided to us to enjoy today.
Commemoration means very little if our daily actions do not echo the sentiments of what we commemorate. Simply posting on social media, rioting in the streets or whispering about issues in hallways is not enough. It is the responsibility of every individual to ensure that they actively engage in society and ascertain that their freedoms are not infringed upon while not infringing on the freedoms of others.
It is important for us to decide what freedom means to each of us individually and to the nation at large, what lengths we are willing to go to in order to protect that freedom and what it means to be an active citizen of a free society.
We must remember that “freedom” means emancipation from poverty, unemployment, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Although we have a new democracy, many of these issues still remain. Freedom Day therefore serves as a reminder to us that we should be permanently vigilant against corruption and the erosion of the values, so that we can build a just society that will work towards wiping out inequality and promote of the rights embodied in our constitution to create a better life for all.